Ultranationalist Group Targets Dissident Israeli Anthropologists

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions condemns recent efforts to intimidate Israeli scholars who have spoken out against the occupation.

This week, the ultranationalist pressure group Im Tirtzu released a report targeting Israeli anthropologists it accuses of supporting the international boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Last month, 22 Israeli anthropologists anonymously signed a letter supporting the proposed boycott currently being voted on by the American Anthropological Association (AAA).

Im Tirtzu purports to “out” the 22 Israeli dissidents, but its research is ridden with factual errors, even misidentifying the genders of some of those targeted. The report’s accusations target Israeli anthropologists who signed a different letter that did not endorse the boycott but rather encouraged open debate on the issue within the AAA.

More disturbingly, Im Tirtzu calls on Israeli universities to fire any employee who supports the boycott — or even open debate about a boycott — as well as to ban protest activities such as flying the Palestinian flag. Im Tirtzu also demands that the state of Israel withdraw funding from universities that do not implement these repressive measures. As a result of the report, an Israeli parliamentarian from the ruling coalition has called for emergency hearings to demand that universities take disciplinary action against dissidents.

Im Tirtzu has a long track record of targeting Israeli academics and civil society groups it deems to be “unpatriotic.” While the group’s demands are especially extreme, they build on a 2011 Israeli law that targets against any individual or entity calling for boycott, divestment, or sanctions against Israel or its settlements.

The academic boycott under consideration by the AAA is in part a response to the ongoing deterioration of academic freedom in Israel/Palestine — first and foremost for Palestinians, but for dissident Israeli Jews as well. Boycott opponents often misleadingly invoke “academic freedom,” even though the boycott will not block Israeli scholars from collaborating with their U.S. colleagues or participating in AAA activities. These same boycott opponents, however, are conspicuously silent about the very real threats to academic freedom occurring in Israel/Palestine such as the Im Tirtzu campaign. This calls into question the sincerity of boycott opponents’ commitment to academic freedom for all.

Voting on the AAA boycott resolution ends on 31 May at 5pm EDT. The boycott seeks to uphold academic freedom for all, not merely the privileged or those whose opinions please the current Israeli government.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions expresses its solidarity with Israeli colleagues targeted by Im Tirtzu. We look forward to the day when our Israeli colleagues are free to speak out against their government without fear of persecution and when our Palestinian colleagues can practice their scholarship in freedom.

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